SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Call ‘em the Comeback Kids.
Tanner Tokunaga doubled home two runs with the bases loaded with two outs to cap a dramatic six-run sixth inning that gave Hawaii a come-from-behind, 7-5 win Saturday over Louisiana to advance to the Little League World Series title game.
Waipahu, Hawaii’s opponent today will be Matamoros, Mexico, which defeated Tokyo, 5-4, earlier Saturday for the international title.
Lake Charles, La., looked to be a lock to represent the United States when the boys from the Bayou State entered the top of the sixth with a 5-1 lead.
But Hawaii didn’t quit.
“They’ve just always had this never give up attitude,” manager Timo Donahue said.
Tokunaga started the rally off reliever Gunner Leger with a single, and Pikai Winchester followed with a ground-rule double to put runners on second and third. Iolana Akau’s single drove in Hawaii’s first run of the inning to cut it to 5-2.
Khade Paris drove in a run on a groundout and Caleb Duhay added an RBI single.
Four batters later, Christian Donahue, Timo Donahue’s son, came up with two outs and the bases loaded and lined a hard grounder that Leger, who had moved to first, misplayed to score Duhay.
That set up Tokunaga’s go-ahead double, which just slipped under shortstop Kennon Fontenot’s glove and made its way to the warning track to score Jedd Andrade and Keelen Obedoza.
Hawaii’s frantic fans cheered wildly as Tokunaga slapped his hands at second.
Winning pitcher Trevor Ling retired the side in the bottom of the sixth and set off a wild celebration as Hawaii’s players tossed their gloves in the air near the mound.
A team from Hawaii won the Little League championship in 2005, the first of three consecutive titles for U.S. teams.
Now, Waipahu will try to make it four in a row today.
Bryce Jordan had a two-run single and Nicholas Abshire added three hits and two RBI to pace Louisiana. Leading 3-1, Louisiana had added two more runs in the fifth off a Fontenot homer and a RBI single from Abshire. It still wasn’t enough against Hawaii.
“It’s such a hopeless feeling,” Louisiana manager Charlie Phillips said. “You have to stay calm on the outside for the kids. You don’t want to panic.”
In the early game, a five-run third inning erased an early 2-0 deficit for Mexico.
“Mexico! Mexico,” the team’s red and green-clad fans chanted on a balmy afternoon after Sergio Rodriguez’ homer to dead center gave his team a 3-2 lead.
Tomas Castillo and Ruben Molina opened the five-run third with consecutive doubles, Hector Dragustinovis drove in a run with a fielder’s choice and Hector Guevara capped the scoring with an RBI single.
Rodriguez and his teammates took the traditional victory lap around Lamade Stadium after the big win as their family and friends snapped pictures from the stands.
“I think the players were nervous in the first inning. They were feeling a little pressure,” manager Gustavo Gomez said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. “Thank God, we never gave up.”
Takumi Ozeki hit an RBI single and scored when Jesus Sauceda threw a wild pitch after coming on in relief with two outs, cutting it to 5-4.
But after a walk, the 13-year-old pitcher retired the final four batters he faced, including a strikeout of Daiki Murase to end the game.
“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Sauceda said. “Once the outs started to come, I felt relaxed.”
It’s already been a memorable tournament for Sauceda — he tossed the fifth perfect game in Little League World Series history in a four-inning, 12-0 win over Italy last Sunday.
Now Sauceda has the distinction of closing out the win that sent a team from Mexico into the World Series title game for the first time since 1997. A squad from Guadalupe beat the U.S. champions from Mission Viejo, Calif., that year to win the crown.